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It's nearly impossible to stream a Kansas City Royals game without cable. Here's why

One Kansas City Royals fan arrived early with plenty of cold-weather gear for the home opener against the Cleveland Guardians before the start of a baseball game, Thursday, April 7, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Reed Hoffmann
Associated Press
One Kansas City Royals fan arrived early with plenty of cold-weather gear for the home opener against the Cleveland Guardians before the start of a baseball game, Thursday, April 7, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri.

Perhaps you were hoping to save some money this year by dropping your cable subscription. Well, if you’re also hoping to follow the Royals in baseball’s most exciting and competitive division, sorry, you’ll have no choice but to pony up.

Back in the day, if you wanted to watch one of the finest clubs in Major League Baseball, all you had to do was switch on the TV… and maybe adjust the rabbit ears.

In the 1970s a free, over-the-air TV station — Channel 41, then known as KBMA — owned the rights to Royals baseball, and everyone in town knew it. When the team took the field, it wasn’t unusual for 70% of TV sets in Kansas City to be tuned to KBMA, way up on the UHF dial.

No one then could imagine that free agency would lead to bidding wars for players’ services, a power struggle that heavily favored big-market clubs with their preposterously rich local TV deals, over smaller-market clubs like the Royals. (Kansas City is No. 34, according to Nielsen; only Cincinnati and Milwaukee are smaller among MLB markets. By contrast, revenue from NFL broadcasts is distributed equally among teams, thanks to a system created by Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt.)

Nor could anyone have imagined that the need for ever-higher revenues would not only put an end to free baseball but make watching the Royals on TV so expensive.

Perhaps you were hoping to save some money this year by dropping your cable subscription? Well, if you’re also hoping to follow the local team in baseball’s most exciting and competitive division, sorry, you’ll have no choice but to pony up.

However, if you’re willing to settle for a little less live Royals action, there will be plenty of chances to follow them through a growing array of national broadcast and streaming-TV options.

What’s free:

Of course, you can listen to the Royals for free on KCSP-AM (610) and the Royals Radio Network. Hall of Famer Denny Matthews will calmly narrate the action for another season, his 54th as the club’s lead announcer. But if you like pictures with your radio, and you don’t pay for TV, then you’d better circle April 29 on your calendar.

That game — when the Royals host the New York Yankees — is the only currently scheduled free-to-watch telecast featuring Kansas City’s men in blue. Plot twist: It’s on streaming.

In a brand-new package negotiated with MLB, Apple will televise two Friday-night baseball games per week on its Apple TV+ streaming platform, including Royals-Yankees on April 29. For a limited time the games will be free, which means you only need to download the Apple TV app to watch them.

You should also sign up for an MLB.com account if you haven’t already. Every day Major League Baseball chooses one game as the MLB.tv Free Game of the Day that registered users can watch, whether or not they’ve purchased an MLB.TV subscription.

As I write this, I’m streaming the matchup between the Royals and the Cleveland Guardians, which was selected as the MLB.tv Free Game for Opening Day. The only catch: You have to check in every day to see what the game-of-the-day will be.

What will cost dearly:

All locally televised games will be shown on Bally Sports Kansas City,formerly known as Fox Sports KC. Ryan Lefevbre, in his 24th season, will do most of the play-by-play calls. With few exceptions, you must have a pay TV subscription (cable or satellite) to watch the local Royals TV broadcasts.

But what if you’re a cord-cutter and use streaming TV? For now, your options are limited. That’s because sports is a huge selling point for pay TV, and cable and dish operators have usually been able to negotiate aggressively for sports channels, passing along the high fees to customers.

But that is changing. For the first time more people report using streaming TV than traditional pay TV.

Because of Royals broadcast rights, Fox Sports KC was for many years the second-most expensive channel for cable operators to carry, after ESPN. Then along came streaming TV to replace cable: Hulu with Live TV, YouTube TV, Sling and Fubo. Millions of cord-cutters made the switch to streaming.

But then along came Sinclair Broadcast Group, a company noted for its, um, innovative approachesto local TV. Sinclair acquired most of the Fox Sports regional sports channels in 2019, sold the naming rights to Bally casinos and steeply hiked the price that was being charged to streaming platforms for carrying the channels.

All but one of the streamers responded by dropping Bally Sports. The one that didn’t, DirecTV Stream, offers Bally Sports as part of its Choice tier, which starts at $90 a month.

Is $3 a day worth it for the Royals diehard? Arguably local coverage has gotten better over time. In 2011 Fox Sports KC only televised 140 of the Royals’ 162 games; this season Bally Sports will televise every game that isn’t being offered on national TV or streaming.

What won’t cost so dearly:

As part of the MLB deal, Apple TV+ is also offering an on-demand replay channel and a new nightly program, MLB Big Inning, a whirlwind of live look-ins and highlights that’s being compared to NFL Red Zone.

So if the Royals have men on base and Salvy’s at bat, you’ll probably get to see him take his swings. For many fans those add-ons will make Apple TV+ worth the paltry $5 a month it charges (plus there’s Ted Lasso, starring noted Royals fan Jason Sudeikis).

While you’re at it, think about forking over another $5 for Peacock, the streaming arm of NBC Universal. It just announceda Sunday-morning MLB deal that starts in May — and there are two Royals games on the schedule so far: July 3 at the Detroit Tigers and July 17 at the Toronto Blue Jays.

You’ll need to subscribe to Peacock Premium, as MLB won’t be on Peacock’s free version.

Stay tuned — it’s a long season:

When Sinclair priced the streaming platforms out of the market for Royals games, there was speculation that Sinclair wanted to sell its own streaming platform directly to Kansas City sports fans. And indeed, that’s what has happened.

The new streaming service, announced earlier this year, will allow Royals fans in Kansas City to watch games directly from Bally Sports, no cable subscription required. Needless to say, it won’t be cheap (estimates are it will cost $23 a month) and it won’t be available outside the Kansas City metro because MLB.tv has the exclusive contract for out-of-market fans.

Look for more news later this season about this direct-to-customer streaming service.

Also later this season, we’ll know if the Royals are in contention for the playoffs. If that happens — or if they or one of their AL Central Division rivals goes on a hot streak and is playing the Royals — more KC games will be added to the schedules of networks with MLB rights.

On free TV, that means Fox’s Baseball Night in America, which returns in the summer; and on cable, ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, TBS Tuesday Night, and FS1, which airs several games a week. ESPN, TBS and FS1 are carried by Hulu and YouTube TV. Fubo carries ESPN and FS1 but not TBS.

Former Kansas City Star TV critic Aaron Barnhart is senior editor at Primetimer and author of the Primetimer Guide to Streaming TV.
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